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tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera  August 30, 2015 3:30am-4:01am EDT

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independent sensibilities and film making. marga ortigas, al jazeera. >> you can keep up to date on our stories at aljazeera.com. >> this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. >> techknow investigates katrina... ten years after the storm. >> during katrina, a large amount of water rushed in from the gulf. >> the walls were engineered to stop mother nature... they failed. >> do you think that new orleans is safer than 10 years ago?
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>> now rebuilt - higher, stronger, billions of dollars spent. new tech to predict storms. >> we'll be able to make measurements of the winds as they change very quickly. >> but is this city safe? >> do i feel 100% safe? no. >> marita davison is an environmental bioligist. >> as the waves are coming in, explain to me what's happening. >> tonight she goes inside the lab to bring the latest research that could stop the next superstorm. and i'm phil torres, i'm an entomologist. so how did katrina change the resident's attitude toward nature? now, techknow in new orleans: katrina, 10 years after. i'm here at jefferson parish at the exact spot that was submerged back in august 2005 and i'm 6 foot 2 and if i stretch my hand up to this height... triple that. that's how high some of the flood waters were in some neighborhoods here in this area. now while the waters are long
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gone, the issues are not. techknow's marita davison has spent a week here in new orleans - now marita, you've been piecing together what went wrong from a science and engineering perspective. >> and phil you said it, this community was devastated when hurricane katrina hit, now in the 10 years since, scientists have made significant improvements to the system, these are coming together to form multiple lines of defense that reduce the risks from another katrina-like storm. let's take a look. >> this area has been vulnerable to storms like katrina since 1200 years ago. >> katrina was really a wake up call to the corp of engineers. >> what katrina did is... it brought the eye to what's happening when you destroy things...if we don't repair things that protect us, in 80 years the city of new orleans will be under water. >> a decade later, hurricane
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katrina is still considered one of this country's most deadly storms. in august 2005, katrina claimed more than eighteen hundred lives along the gulf coast--leaving 80 percent of new orleans under water. when katrina hit new orleans she was only a category 3 storm. but in many places the city had only one line of defense...levees-made of earth. in 50 different locations those levees failed. in the 9th ward major levee breaches and overtopping caused entire homes to be swept away....killing hundreds.. while others scrambled to rooftops for safety. in st bernard parish...more than 5 thousand children were reported missing during the height of the storm. and the neighborhood of lakeview located right next to a major storm defense system was basically washed away. one month later the head of the army corp of engineers, col.
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carl strock, was forced to testify before congress for his agency's role in the disaster. since the 1920's that branch of the millitary has been responsible for the city's structural defenses. one year later, they released a 6,000 page report publiclly accepting responsibility for the levee failures. col. carl strock said, quote- "we had a catastrophic failure" ...and "words alone will not restore trust in the corps". >> do you think that new orleans is safer than 10 years ago? >> i would say new orleans has much much more robust defenses than it did 10 years ago unquestionably. >> mike park is the chief of operations for the army corp of engineers new orleans district. he was born here, and in charge of cleanup and rebuilding after the storm. >> construction is in progress. >> the army corp has been working non stop to mitigate storm damage...their solution still one year away from
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completion is the new storm risk reduction system. this new system surrounds 4 new orleans' parishes. it now includes, 133 miles of levees, flood walls, surge barriers and pumping stations. this innovation-the repel system is also one of the new solutions being tested by the corp. it's essentially a giant plug. when there is a breach it can be inflated on shore. then engineers float it towards the breach hoping the pull of the water will wedge the plug tightly enough to slow the leak. >> during katrina the 17th street canal was the site of one of the worst levee breaches todays it's one of the last pieces in the 14.5 billion dollar defense system. now has the design criteria been more strict more stringent this time around? >> yes the system design has
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really evolved based on the lessons that were learned during hurricane katrina. >> for example---an i-wall design was previously used on flood walls...which was a simple straight steel beam driven into the ground...now "t "walls made of concrete and steel provide more support around the base of the walls. the entire system is all designed to reduce the risks associated with a 100 year storm-like katrina---down to 1 percent each year. >> how should the new orleans public interpret that? should they feel safer? >> the system that's in place now is the most robust system for flood risk reduction we've ever enjoyed but they should not be complacent there's always a residual risk of flooding from storms that exceed that design. >> the flooding at 17th street canal in 2005 is a good exampe
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of the tremendous engineering challenges the corp faces. >> what exactly went wrong? >> well the storm surge 10 years ago was able to penetrate up into this 17th street drainage canal ...the i walls failed releasing a flood that came into the community. >> after katrina the army corp of engineers began to build additional lines of defense at the 17th street canal, a flood wall, more pumping stations and higher levees . southern louisiana is hot and swampy...so constant soil erosion and sediment displacement, as well as the fact -in some places, new orleans' is up to 800 feet below sea level, is why this city is so naturally prone to flooding. >> at 1,000 feet flying from the outskirts of new orleans it
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becomes very obvious how a large surge of water would have caused the devastation that we saw during hurricane katrina. >> most of south louisiana is new land there's no stones down here it's all sediment. >> foster creppel's family has lived on this delta for generations. about 50 miles outside new orleans in port sulphur, they've seen their share of flooding..especially during katrina. >> the delta is 85 percent organic it's plant growth and decay. >> try to build a sound structure on that. but foster creppel did anyway. he bought the old woodlands plantation from auction. and turned it into a bed and breakfast. woolands is also outside the army corp's new storm risk reduction system ...and foster is actually glad. his common sense approach to flooding may seem radical to some...but foster creppel is part of a movement looking to nature for protection.
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>> i think we should lower our levees a bit and raise our houses and build spillways to connect the rivers to the delta. >> by lowering the levees as you suggest you have to deal with flooding more regularly are you willing to deal with that? >> i am i would rather deal with an annual flood from the mississippi river than the big floods that come from storms. >> foster says trying to over-manage the river has caused waterways to become too salty- killing huge chunks of the delta that used to naturally buffer people from storms. >> first we clear cut the cypress swamps, then we built the levees then we harvested most of the old natural oyster reefs and then we started drilling and dredging for natural gas. i definitely need air condition, i like travel, i love oysters, but at the same time i also would like to be protected from storm surges. >> coming up: scientists are taking foster creppel's approach
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seriously. >> one of the problems was we didn't have vegetation in any of our models. >> studying how coastal wetlands can make southern louisiana safer. >> so we knew that the wetlands were good for dissipating energy and it would be good for the project... um, but we couldn't quantify it. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow. >> in order to save my children, i had to try to save everyone else's. >> chicago mothers, fed up and fighting back. >> what we've essentially done is created an outdoor community center. >> changing the city one block at a time. >> i'm out here to encourage them, to tell them there's a better way.
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>> new orleans, the crescent city, is a cultural and historical gem,
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worth preserving ... so when the mr go channel was built in the late 1950s many peope were already saying: mr go must go! mr go is what locals call the mississippi river gulf outlet. once dubbed the surge superhighway -it's a 76-mile artificial chanel built for commercial shipping. dr john lopez is a member of the mr go must go coalition. he's also a coastal biologist who consulted for the army corps of engineers. >> tell me about mr go why was it created? >> well it was like a lot of federal projects. it was based on some sort of cost benefit that they projected by increased commercial use navigation on the channel. now that might seem kind of ironic because it's built right adjacent to the mississippi river. they saw some advantage but in reality it didn't pan out. the use of the channel was very small. >> and because mr go cut right through precious wetlands...that act as a flood buffer---there
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were immediate community concerns. >> there were people...even before...some locals who were heroically trying to fight to get this thing changed but it was just a few locals fighting this huge bureaucracy. >> their concerns proved valid on august 29th, 2005. we're at the part of the mrgo channel that's called the funnel. during katrina a large amount of water came in from the gulf, concentrated right here and pushed into the city of new orleans surrounding communities. for several miles, earthen levees along the mr go's banks were completely leveled by storm surge..in some places waves were well over 10 feet high. in 2009, eight different scientists linked mr go to most of the deepest, most violent flooding in both st. bernard parish and the lower ninth ward. together, both parishes also suffered the largest losses of life during katrina. now is it possible to say that had mr go not been there the
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impacts of katrina would have been less? >> oh yeah very clearly...presumably they would have built the levee and that levee probably would have been better because you would have had miles of wetlands in front of it...there would have been less damage, there would have been fewer people who were killed in the storm. >> three years after katrina, and multiple lawsuits later--congress finally agreed. mr go was de-authorized. the army copr of engineers offically closed the channel for good. at least three impact studies, including one from the corp itself--urged the federal government to begin restoring the wetlands. where does nature and natural defenses fit into the design here? >> certainly the coastal environments can provide a buffer against storm surge and it's very critical for the long term sustainability for this
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constructed system. >> about 4 hours north in vicksburg mississippi, the army corp of engineers scientists are studying the exact impact coastal vegetation has on storm surge. jane mckee smith is a civil engineer. she's been studying the louisiana coastline since katrina. >> there's a lot of effort ongoing now to restore wetlands because that will help to dissipate not only the waves but it will also attenuate the surge but if we're going to include that into our designs we have to know how much. >> now as the waves are coming in explain to me what's happening? >> what we're seeing in this case is the waves coming in we see it traveling through...and it travels through the vegetation it's mobile ...so what we want to show is not only how the waves change as they go through but we want to have the dissipation as a function of distance, the height of the vegetation the width of the vegetation and also the density of the vegetation. >> since katrina the high security coastal and hydraulics lab has faced an added sense of
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urgency... says ty wamsley, the chief of flood storm protection. >> we really advanced our numerical modeling after katrina. another big part of what we began to understand after katrina was the importance of how the natural system interacts with the engineered system...so that we can design the engineered system to not fight nature but work alongside it. >> this area i'm walking in is meant to simulate a coastal shoreline. it can even be filled with sand or other sediments so the army corp of engineers can study how waves impact erosion. >> we are being pragmatic about this and frankly we'd like to see more restoration on the outside of the levee because when it's on the outside it helps provide a surge buffer. >> but very little has been done to restore wetalnds along mr go.
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according to the state of lousiana's 2012 master plan for a sustainable coast report---that the army corp supports-an additional 50 billion dollars is needed to protect new orleans. so there wasn't a lot of money set aside for coastal wetland restoration? >> there was a small amount of funding that was provided to compliment the system about 20 million dollars. >> but everyone agrees it's not nearly enough... the army corp has tried to enter a cost-sharing program with the state but so far no agreement has been reached. ironically, coastal lousiana's biggest wetland restoration funding to date is coming from an unlikely source.... british petroleum. >> so i think we are at an interesting threshold here with the bp settlement. >> a settlement stemming from the 2011 b.p. oil spill is expected to infuse lousiana with $10 billion dollars. a large portion of the money is slated for coastal restoration projects.
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i am reasonably optimistic they'll be a reasonable slice of that for mr go type projects. our big takeaway in this katrina anniversary is that a lot of things have been done and new orleans is on a good track towards sustainability but the job is not done here. >> coming up on techknow: phil torres shows us new science that will predict storm surge from space...what wasn't possible during katrina is now on the horizon.
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>> if this track is correct, it comes into a point near the alabama / mississippi line. >> in august 2005, with round the clock weather reports - southern louisiana residents had plenty of warning katrina was coming. they just didn't know what they were getting. traditionally, the national weather service has relied on
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hurricane hunters. they fly planes into storms to take measurements...that's how they track them. but for safety reasons they can only fly when the storm isn't too powerful...and even our current satellite technology doesn't allow us to take measurements through heavy rain. >> what we were doing during katrina...the national weather service hurricane hunters they were flying over katrina with their airplanes when they could and the last measurements ...were just a little bit after this right in this region right here. >> dr. ruf a professor of atmospheric science at the university of michigan--says after that, winds picked up even more building stronger storm surge. in those final hours that couldn't be measured. >> so the magnitude of the flooding and also the locations of where the flooding happened were very unexpected. >> inspired by katrina, dr ruf and his team at u of m created a new system of satellites that can measure storm surge. they call it "cygness". this nasa mission is scheduled to launch october 2016.
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>> it's a constellation of 8 small satellites orbiting the tropics we'll be able to measure very often because the satellites sort of chase each other...we'll be able to take measurements of the winds as they change quickly...that's something that's never been able to be done before with hurricanes. >> because cygness is really a modified gps receiver that uses satellites already in space it's not as expensive...so more can be sent...the more satellites the more measurements-and therefore the more accurate the storm surge prediction will become. >> i think there's also an important psychological aspect with improved reliability of forecasting and that is when forecasts are wrong people tend to not trust them as much. if forecasts are reliable ...they are much more likely to listen when there's an emergency. >> from future, storm surge forecasting by satellites in space, to upgraded flood engineering on the ground, to
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restoring wetlands to act as natural buffers, many strategies have been put in place during the past 10 years. but what do residents think about the new storm risk reduction system? i went to new orleans's 9th ward to find out . at the time of katina, its population was approximately 15 thousand, 96 percent were african american. there are no exact numbers on how many 9th ward residents died during katrina, but the death toll was the highest there. today, about 5600 people live in the 9th ward. i met with two residents there to find out whether they feel safer than they did 10 years ago? >> do i feel 100 percent safe? no but i feel safer than i did 10 years ago. >> arthur johnson, runs the sustain the nine coalition. right in the heart of one of the hardest hit blocks. >> i also feel that there is a greater awareness of what safety
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means. >> and that piece-educating residents on how to stay safe from storms -is why sustain the nine coalition was formed right after katrina. >> so how did katrina change people here's attitude? >> i've seen changes in how people look at things. what they find important what they find not important. i've seen them become more advocates for the environment, for what's going on around them. >> and then there's john taylor, he may seem an unlikely environmentalist but i was introduced to him for a reason. >> he's out wetlands specialist but uh... he's the guru on the bayou and the lower 9 and... john taylor... >> mr. taylor? >> how you doin'? >>very nice to meet you. >> same here. > i've heard you mr bayou? you know about the wetlands around here. >> well that one at least. >> john taylor was born and raised in the lower 9th ward. where'd you learn about the wetlands? >> at the wetlands...they come found me after katrina everybody say well who knows about this
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wetlands and my name popped up every time they asked. >> taylor's house was destroyed during katrina. but the lower 9th and the neighboring bayou is home and he's never considered leaving. has the bayou changed since katrina? or is wilderness still wilderness? >> well, the bayou was destroyed, where i grew up was destroyed in "65. katrina didn't destroy it but what katrina did is sort of helped it because it brought the eye to what's happening when you destroy things. >> taylor points to the ghost swamp...a former cypress grove first destroyed by the lumber industry and then by altering the flow of the mississippi river, which leeched fresh water, killing most of its' vegetation. >> since katrina, a group of non-profits have become involved in restoring the ghost swamp... a step, mr bayou says, is in the right direction. so you obviously love the bayou...what would you like to see it become? >> before i die i would like to see it restore back to its
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normal state... it protection for everybody but everybody do not know that until they started taking all these surveys and stuff... >> but it is from the last 10 years of studying what went wrong during katrina that a multi- pronged plan has been put in place... it's been a long, costly process that can't completely protect southern louisiana from every storm but will hopefully dramatically reduce the damage from them. >> after seeing all this, there's one thing that's so clear to me which is that new orleans was at risk... is at risk... and probably always will be at risk and obviously lives are the priority but when you stand here in a historic district you also realize that there is a lot of history at stake as well. >> yeah and it doesn't get more iconic than jackson square and there's no question new orleans is an american gem. and virtually everyone we spoke to said that 10 years later, new orleans is more safe.
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today it's safer than it was back then, but probably the biggest takeaway here is that people shouldn't fall into complacency... because a storm is going to hit new orleans again, there's no such thing as protection, we can just reduce the risk. >> now marita, is it enough to be prepared for the next katrina or do we need to look beyond this? >> no, we totally need to look beyond this because again, storms are gonna' come here and a storm is not a storm... is not a storm, they're very different kinds of storms, that speaks to the importance of modeling - getting a sense of the whole scope of possibilities that we need to prepare for. >> now marita, you've not only spent time here on the ground, but you also got to take a flight to see the vastness and complexity of this region, what was your takeaway? >> well, i have to tell you phil, that was probably the most powerful part of the story for me because when you take that bird's eye view, you not only get to see how this area is so influenced by water and surrounded by water... but also how new orleans is uniquely vulnerable to a storm
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like katrina. >> now, one thing is for certain is that there will be another storm, and it will be testing the strength and the resilience of the city once again, thanks for all your hard work here marita. be sure to check us out on the next addition of "techknow" - we'll see you then. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> i'll have two or three puffs and i'll already have a nicotine buzz. >> a popular smoking alternative. >> we have to learn have to learn more about electronic cigarettes. >> but could vaping be just as dangerous? >> what are you really taking in? >> we don't know what chemicals are in these things. >> techknow's team of experts show you how the miracles of science... >> i'm standing in a tropical windstorm. >> can affect and surprise us. >> wow, some of these are amazing. >> techknow - where technology meets humanity.
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>> protests in malaysia. thousands rally for a second day demanding the prime minister's resignation. hello. you are watching al jazeera. also coming up in the program, the u.n. joined for global condemnation as an egyptian judge sentenced three journalists to jail. also -- >> they are coming back. >> we'll be

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